Over the past several weeks, we have seen an increasing number of patients with conjunctivitis, otherwise known as “pink eye.” With school back in session, South Georgia Eye Partners wants families, teachers and day care workers to be informed and learn to recognize the symptoms in order to avoid contracting the infection or spreading it to others.
“We are seeing one – three new cases a day in our Valdosta and Tifton offices,” said Dr. Alan Peaslee. “Many people don’t even remember having been around anyone with pink eye. Just in the last few weeks, we have treated children, adults and entire families with conjunctivitis – including cases of bilateral (both eyes) conjunctivitis.”
Conjunctivitis, commonly referred to as “pink eye” is an inflammation or infection of the thin transparent layer of tissue that lines the inner surface of the eyelid that covers the white part of the eye. Several factors including viral or bacterial infection, allergic reaction and certain chemicals cause a person to contract conjunctivitis. Peaslee said that most cases they’ve seen have been viral, probably an adeno virus; however, they have not asked patients to incur the cost of laboratory diagnosis since it does not change the treatment.
The bacterial and viral forms are highly contagious, especially among children; therefore, it is important that you take note if you are experiencing symptoms such as:
- Red, very swollen, painful eyes and/or eyelids
- Watery mucus discharge
- Upper respiratory symptoms
If experiencing symptoms, first and foremost, do everything you can to avoid spreading the infection to family members, friends and co-workers. Actions include frequent, thorough hand washing and no sharing of towels, washcloths and pillows. Additionally, it’s a good idea for the infected person not to share a sink with others. Next, individuals should seek care from an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as symptoms begin to manifest. Contact lenses wearers should stop wearing lenses and discard them along with cases and open bottles of solution.
Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on its cause. For the particular type of conjunctivitis South Georgia Eye Partners’ physicians are seeing, an antibiotic to prevent secondary infection, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops, anti-histamine drops, and in some cases, corticosteroid eye drops are typical treatments. In a few severe cases, patients have been placed on oral antihistaminic and oral anti-inflammatory medications.
Unfortunately, individuals are contagious before they have symptoms; therefore, it is very important to practice good hygiene to control the spreading of conjunctivitis.
- Don’t touch or rub your eyes with your hands
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently
- Change your towel or washcloth daily
- Discard eye cosmetics (particularly mascara)
- Don’t use anyone else’s eye cosmetics or personal eye care items
“Patients are most contagious in the days prior to the onset of symptoms and during the first week of symptoms; therefore, we recommend people stay home from work or school during this time, if possible,” said Peaslee. “While some patients remain contagious up to 14 days, we believe in most cases, the contagious phase ends one week after the onset of symptoms. Unlike bacterial conjunctivitis, patients with viral conjunctivitis remain contagious even while being treated, whereas bacterial conjunctivitis patients are no longer contagious after 24-48 hours of antibiotic treatment.”
Peaslee says the worst symptoms last seven – ten days but it may take patients up to a month to completely resolve the infection. Some patients may also experience ocular sensitivity, inflammation and “dry eyes” up to three months after the infection.
Since this is the most virulent wave of conjunctivitis they’ve seen in years, we are working to educate the public on the infection. To aid with prevention, Dr. Eric Kolisz has been in constant contact with directors of nursing for the Valdosta and Tifton school systems as well as the head of epidemiology for South Georgia. He has also distributed information and directives to all the local school nurses and pediatrician offices.
Additionally, strict measures are taken in the South Georgia Eye Partners offices to ensure everything is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. For example, a separate waiting area has been created for patients experiencing pink eye symptoms and only one exam room is used to see those patients. Each time that room is used, it is disinfected before the next patient comes in. Additionally, hand cleaner dispensers are placed throughout each office for patients, family members and staff to use frequently.
If not properly diagnosed and managed, complications from conjunctivitis can arise. Therefore, both Peaslee and Kolisz recommend individuals with symptoms seek care immediately and encourage those exposed take all necessary precautions to prevent contracting the infection.
To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call 229.244.2068 (Valdosta), 229.391.4180 (Tifton) or 912.384.1840 (Douglas). Click here to see Dr. Ann Patel’s interview on Fox 31/WFXL’s Good Day morning show.